by Dieu-Hang Tran
The Social Housing Strategy in 2015 has changed the Liberties area significantly. While the plan aimed to address the housing pressure via student accommodations, it does not benefit student and neither benefits the residents of the area.
According to TU Dublin’s cost of living guide, an average budget rent in Dublin is 585 euros per month per student. This number can vary from 540 euros to 940 euros depends on the living choices. Meanwhile, this budget should be double if students choose to live in purposed-built student accommodations. For example, on Apartostudent.com, a standard bedroom starts from 260 euros per week, it means 1040 euros per month. Heyday Student Living offers an en suite bedroom from 268 euros per week.
“The name doesn’t go with the program, it doesn’t help student” said Hiya Saikia, a third-year student at Griffith College.
“If you stay outside of student accommodation in a shared house or a shared apartment, then you pay less than what you pay in student accommodation”.
Interesting enough, the student accommodations on websites are sold out for the rest of the year.
[Photo 1: The Loom, one of the latest purposed-built student accommodations on Cork street. Photo by Dieu-Hang Tran]
Why did this happen?
A report by Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows a constant lack of supply for student accommodations. According to the report, by the year 2024, 25182 bed units will be needed to meet the demand of 68679 students. The report suggests the private rental sector should be more flexible with the rent-a-room scheme and more student accommodation should be built.
In 2017, National Student Accommodation Strategy was in progress. The strategy immediately attracted developers to invest in purposed-built student accommodations. In county Dublin, the main area for this plan was Dublin North and Dublin South-West. According to a report by Lisney, between 2014 and 2020, almost 950m euros worth of student accommodations assets have transacted, includes Newmarket Square and upper side of Cork Street.
“The original idea for student accommodations was the more you provided then the market starts to find the balance, and the price will reduce where there is more supply,” said Stephen Coyne, programme manager of Dublin South-West economic development, “…but it hasn’t happened yet” he added.
“What actually happened there was that the operators just changed the accommodations to different type of business which keep their cost up and not responding as business should”.
In the second half of 2020, there are a number of operators got permissions to convert student accommodations into short-term lets due to ‘lack of demand’ in the pandemic alongside difficulties in the tourist industry. According to an article by Dublin Inquirer, about 1000 bed units have been converted into short-term lets until 31st May 2022.
“The model that they are operating has changed dramatically because of covid, and it’s still not clear how much it affects the business,” said Stephen.
Interestingly, it’s not until the pandemic that the conversion is permitted. In January 2019, Dublin City Council granted DWS, an accommodation operator, to repurpose 713 bed units into short-term lets. In September 2019, DWS was allowed to convert 599 student beds to non-student co-living.
“I think they are trying to flip the system a little bit” Stephen added.
Question the inflated housing system
On 13th October, a protest was held to call Owen Keegan, CEO of Dublin City Council to resign. The protest sparkled following the CEO’s ‘sarcasm’ reply to a student union president raised concern about 571 student accommodations were converted into short-term lets.
In the reply, Owen Keegan said “If I believe this is artificial inflated charge in the market, you should start developing it yourselves”
Ruairí Power, the mentioned student in the reply of Owen Keegan, shared the student union’s reaction: “We found quite strongly that this is wrong…there was a demand for student accommodation. We found a higher number of full-time accommodation officer because student was in such a different routine finding spaces to stay”.
“What Dublin city council determine to roll out is that it’s not to determine whether the demand for student accommodation is high or the demand for high-cost accommodation”, said Ruairí Power.
“Isn’t that weird because the perception that Irish students can’t pay the same rate as what is supposed to be more for affluent international students…we disagree with the categorize of international students as a cash cow anyway” said Ruairí.
In the respond, Owen Keegan justified the circumstance of the conversion that there was no demand for student accommodation over summer. According to Ruairí, the union did not accept the excuse, he said “the acceptable circumstance might be covid when everything was delivered over zoom so there was less demand for student who come to college and campuses”
“Dublin city council is here to grant the permission and allow them to keep the rent artificially inflated” Ruairí added, “where previously they could have fill the room if they bring the rent down in order to keep the demand”.
“I think he (Owen Keegan) should resign a while ago,” said Ruairí, “it’s not because he made sarcasm remark to us. It’s because he continuously, over his ten years, prioritize decisions that allow the city centre to become commercialized. He hasn’t tackle the homeless issue and it has gotten worse. He is not prepared to make decision for housing as a public good over private profit”
“There is a big sense that what is coming up in Dublin are hotels and commercial densities, it’s not a place for people to live, they are coming to the city just for tours. His policy is not something we support. We don’t think it is the best for students and we ask him to resign because of that”
A loss in public value
The Liberties has changed significantly since the Social Housing Strategy started in 2015. The area was aimed to be constructed with new residential buildings and student accommodations.
“If I was asked 5 years ago, I would say ‘what’s wrong with students?’” said Trevor Keppel, a resident of The Liberties since 2016, and also a town planner.
“There is nothing wrong with students,” Trevor continued, “…It (student accommodation) doesn’t contribute to the local area, it’s not what people want. They want living cost to go down, they want living options”
“And the problem is the way student accommodations is built, its price is very high,” Trevor added, “we want Dublin to be an international place, but it seems the only people who can afford it is international student”
About 5 years ago, Trevor joined a community garden beside Weaver square. According to him, the community garden was up and running for a decade when he signed in as one gardener. “I was the last gardener there” he said.
“It was in June 2017 when I signed in, and in December they removed that area and replaced it with houses. The garden was 10 years old when I got there. A lot of people who were there had been gardening for 12 years, they invested a lot of energy and enriched the area not for their own but ecologically for the area. There were birds and bees were coming”
“Now I’m looking at the building site not yet finished, it was a big loss and it’s really unfair because they didn’t replace it (the garden) with another one”
“Thinking all those spaces have been used for hotels and for student accommodations…it does not do back to the community what they desperately want which is housing, but not student housing, expensive housing”
“And the annoying thing about student housing and hotels is that it’s a way of getting around social housing…the community gets nothing from it really”
The Liberties area was known as having one of the lowest open spaces among the inner-city areas. However, since the housing scheme was in effect, the green area was taken and replaced with more building sites. The loss of the community garden led to a campaign by the gardeners to bring the garden back in 2018. However, with an urgent need for housing, the replacement was failed. Since then, there was no plan for a new community garden was made by the city council.